What is the formula for a successful romantic comedy?
Rob Reiner, director of the best-loved films in the genre, including 1989's When Harry Met Sally, tells Life! it often involves the woman figuring things out first - and the man behaving idiotically until he eventually comes round.
"This is based on my experience and what I see, which is that women are much more advanced, in touch with their feelings, mature and evolved. And men, we kind of run around trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and then we wind up with someone who was right there all the time and who knew what she wanted," says the 67-year-old film-maker.
He was speaking to reporters about his latest film, And So It Goes, which stars Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton and opens in Singapore tomorrow.
True to his template, it starts with two people who dislike each other but end up forming a romantic connection.
The director freely admits that the romantic comedies he has made - including the lesser-known Flipped (2010) and The Sure Thing (1985) - "are basically the same story, but told through the eyes of different people at different ages in their lives".
His latest variation is about people who get a last stab at love in their 60s. Reiner - whose resume is packed with iconic films such as the courtroom drama A Few Good Men (1992), the coming-of-age tale Stand By Me (1996) and the horror thriller Misery (1990) - always wanted to make one more romantic film.
The seeds for this were sown when he was talking to the press about his 2007 movie The Bucket List, about two men (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) who try to do everything on their wishlist before they die.
"Everyone would ask us, 'What's on your bucket list?', and Nicholson would always say, 'One more great romance.' And that gave me the idea to do a movie about people finding one another later on in life.
"I had turned 60 when I did The Bucket List and all those cliches you hear about came true.
"Intellectually, you always know that life is precious, but as you get older, you really understand that and internalise it in a very big way," says Reiner, who was also behind the camera on the hit comedies The Princess Bride (1987) and This Is Spinal Tap (1984). "The whole notion of embracing life, whatever's left of it, you want to do that. So that gave birth to this movie."
Reiner's best-known romantic film was inspired by an existential crisis too.
When Harry Met Sally - which saw the 25th anniversary of its release earlier this month - was "about the experiences I had being a single person after being married for 10 years, and not knowing what to do, and how you relate to women", says Reiner, who this year also celebrates the 25th anniversary of his marriage to his second wife, photographer Michele Singer, the mother of his sons Jake, 22, and Nick, 20, and daughter Romy, 16.
"Could you be friends with a woman or is there always a sexual component and, if it does, does it have to be acted on, and if it is, what does that do?" he says, summing up the dilemma facing Harry (played by Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan).
Explaining the enduring appeal of that film - described by Time magazine as "still the perfect romcom" 25 years later - he adds that "there are some basic truths about men and women that are universal and that doesn't change".
"So it's this dance that you do with each other," says Reiner, who was instrumental to some of the most memorable scenes from the movie, including the one where Sally demonstrates a fake orgasm, which he had to show Ryan how to do while being watched by his mother. She played the woman who says, "I'll have what she's having."
"I've often said a man spends his lifetime trying to understand a woman and a woman spends her lifetime trying to understand a man. "And you will never exactly get it, but you can try to understand it as best you can so you can come together, make a family and keep it secure."
And So It Goes opens in Singapore July 31st.
This article was first published on July 30, 2014.
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